Frank Turner @ House of Blues 11.30.13

by Andy Robinson (Journalism), published January 15th 2014

photos by Andy Robinson

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This man is unstoppable.

English folk rocker Frank Turner played his 1,508th show at the House of Blues on Saturday, November 30th – Thanksgiving weekend. To put that in perspective, Turner is just barely into his 30s, and his solo career started in 2004 following a brief run with a British heavy metal band. The Rolling Stones have played just over 2,000 shows in their 50 year career. This guy never stops. Homesick? Absolutely. That’s his go-to theme. Tired? Somehow, no. On the contrary, he seems to be getting more energetic, even outdoing the hot-footed, arm flailing Mick Jagger himself on stage.

But his magic isn’t in his stage persona, it’s in his songs. They’re strong enough to hold their own, but Turner insists on being everybody’s friend at the shows. He unfortunately breaks up songs to instruct the audience on how to actively participate. It becomes a sort of pep rally. For “Wessex Boy,” he’ll ask you to really push the “Ba”s of the chorus, and he’ll tell you to dance a certain way during his most recent hit, “Recovery.” (Jumping jacks? Are you kidding me?). I’m all for banter and I’m all for establishing a connection between the audience and the musician, but I get uneasy when someone tells me how to enjoy music at a show. And any special instructions would be bearable before the song, but not in the middle of it. Come on.

Still, he’s a man who plays the hits. “The Road,” “Photosynthesis,” “Peggy Sang the Blues” – all here. This tour is supporting his April 2013 album Tape Deck Heart, which has many mild and depressing tracks. “Tell Tale Signs” is a prime example, which he surprisingly played. Usually when Turner needs a sadder, slower song to give the crowd a rest, he seems to lean on “Long Live the Queen,” a song about a friend on her death bed. But even that song isn’t that tame. And when he plays one of his sadder ones, he really seems to pull the band-aid right off; just getting it over with to make way for the hits. “Plain Sailing Weather,” “Losing Days” and “Four Simple Words” all made appearances.

A few surprises always show up a Turner concert. For instance: James Lynch, guitarist and vocalist for Boston’s house band Dropkick Murphys, showed up to literally smoke a cigarette on stage and hold up the lyrics to The Standells’ classic “Dirty Water.” Turner is all about the tributes (his song “I Still Believe” really spells it out) and paying respect to the people who have helped him along the way, and the Murphys are a big one. He’s supported them on many of their tours and continues to water the roots of their friendship by consistently joining forces.

Still, the biggest surprise of the night was the opening band: Koo Koo Kanga Roo. Self-described as “A Kid’s Band, For Adults too,” these two hipster vagabonds produce music that could only have been conjured in the cesspools of the internet; most likely Reddit. Take a second to look them up. If nothing else, just note their album covers, riddled with cats, internet art and hot dog and mustard costumes. Their songs – “Unicorns R Real,” “Cat Party,” and “I Speak Whale” – are just the tip of the iceberg of what these dance/hip-hop/whatever-the-hell party animals have to offer. They were an odd opener to say the least, but Turner clearly loves them. He even joined them on stage for a song and showed off his Koo Koo Kanga Roo tattoo. So there’s that. Fortunately The Smith Street Band, the second opener and a merry bunch of Australian rockers, were there to transition us into Turner’s set.

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